Headless falcons and a mysterious inscription found in ancient Egyptian temple

The discovery was made by a group of archeologists digging in the ancient port city of Berenike in eastern Egypt who discovered a shrine in showing proof of previously-unknown ancient rituals. 

 A mummy of a Falcon discovered in Egypt. (photo credit: CREATIVE COMMONS)
A mummy of a Falcon discovered in Egypt.
(photo credit: CREATIVE COMMONS)

Headless falcons and ancient inscriptions point to a previously-unknown cult and ritual in the eastern Egyptian desert. 

The discovery was made by a group of archeologists digging in the ancient port city of Berenike in eastern Egypt who discovered a shrine in showing proof of previously-unknown ancient rituals. 

The study was recently published in the American Journal of Archaeology and describes the excavation of a religious complex from the Late Roman Period by the Sikait Project.

 Tourists ride on camels next to Pyramid of Khufu on Great Pyramids of Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY) Tourists ride on camels next to Pyramid of Khufu on Great Pyramids of Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY)

Mystery of the falcon shrine

The site has been named by researchers the "Falcon Shrine" and was excavated by the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology and the University of Delaware.`

Researchers were able to identify a small traditional Egyptian temple, which after the 4th century was adapted by the Blemmyes – a nomadic people – for their own belief system. 

The most remarkable find in the shrine were around 15 falcons, most of them without their heads. Burial of falcons had already been found in the Nile Valley but this was the first time archaeologists discovered falcons buried within a temple, and accompanied by eggs.

"It is improper to boil a head in here."

Berenike shrine inscription

What do we know about the falcon cult?

In other sites, researchers had found mummified headless falcons, but always only individuals and not in a group like in the case of the shrine discovered at Berenike. 

The shrine contained the following inscription: "It is improper to boil a head in here" which has been interpreted as a message barring people who enter the shrine from boiling the heads of the animals inside the temple.

“From its archaeological context, the stele almost certainly records an injunction associated with the falcon cult. The text forbade boiling the head of a bird within the area in which the stele was set up,” the researchers wrote in the study.